'Legend is barely enough to sum him up' - sporting community loses one of its greats

The sporting world in Crawley and the Southern Counties is in mourning this week at the sad news  of the passing of one of it’s greats. Geoff Hopcraft, stalwart and former chairman of Crawley Boxing Club, died on Thursday aged 75.
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The word legend is often over used nowadays, but in the case of Geoff, legend is barely enough to sum him up. His tireless work for Crawley Boxing Club, and the hundreds of young boxers that have passed through it’s doors over the years was truly inspiring.

Born in London in 1945 Geoff had his first taste of life in the ring with a few bouts as a young teenager with the Rotax amateur boxing club, before his family moved to the new town in 1960. A year later his father Arthur founded Crawley Boxing Club, and Geoff began writing his way into the town’s sporting folklore.

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He went onto have over 200 bouts for the famous club, his former opponents included the former World Lightweight champion Ken Buchanan, and 5 times ABA kingpin and Olympian Terry Waller.

Geoff Hopcraft with sons Peter (left) and ReesGeoff Hopcraft with sons Peter (left) and Rees
Geoff Hopcraft with sons Peter (left) and Rees

Sadly an ear injury bought about a premature ending to his career in the ring, but marked the start of a remarkable one on the other side of the ropes. He moved to Kent where he helped set up the Ashford ABC before in 1971 moving to Nottingham where he began coaching at the famous Pheonix club, later the home of former world champion Carl Froch.

In 1978 Geoff, and his young family moved back to Crawley where he again joined up with his dad at the Station Road based gym. He was elected onto the committee and the following year took on the top job as Chairman, a post he went onto to hold for a staggering 36 years.

One of Geoff’s biggest early challenges as Chairman of the now nationally renowned club, thanks to it’s former star World Middleweight champion Alan Minter, was to oversee the move from Station Road to it’s present home in Three Bridges. A brand new state of the art gym opened its doors in 1985, and so began another chapter in the life of the popular Geoff Hopcraft.

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He combined his role as the Godfather of Crawley boxing with refereeing and judging on the amateur circuit, as well as serving on the Southern Counties ABA executive committee. Further recognition came when he was given the ultimate honour. He was made an England International referee.

Five years ago he made the shock decision to stand down as the clubs chairman, handing over the reigns of power to his son Rees. He still continued to serve on the clubs committee, and just days before he passed away was busy discussing the clubs plans for the future with Rees and club secretary Ron Parsons.

He was a proud family man. Devoted to his wife of more than 50 years Mavis, his two sons Rees and Peter, themselves both top class boxers and his three grandchildren George, Amy and Louis.

He created a legacy at Crawley Boxing Club and many of it’s boxers past and present were quick to pay tribute to him. Former club captain James Verbeeten said: “I’m absolutely gutted to hear this news, it’s terrible. My heart goes out to all the family”.

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While another ex fighter and current senior coach Keith Gabriel commented “ I’m shocked, truly the end of an era for the club. Geoff never changed in my eyes. R.I.P. to a true gent.

Head coach Paddy Harmey led the tributes on behalf of the clubs juniors: “ Rest In Peace Geoff. A true friend and a great chairman”. And junior boxer Harry Parsons added “ I’m very sad, Geoff was such a lovely man. He believed in me and was at ringside to see me win my last fight just before the lockdown”.

The final word was left to Boxing Hall of Famer Bob Edgeworth who said: “ It was about 1963 when I first met Geoff, he was a few years older than me but I used to spar him. He never took any liberties even though I was only a junior at the time. I’m very very sad to hear this news, my heart goes out to Mavis and the family”.


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